Calisthenics: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

If you have seen videos of athletic guys performing gravity-defying moves while scrolling through your social media feed, odds are that they were calisthenics enthusiasts. These are athletes who have honed their skills through bodyweight training, without weights or fancy equipment in a gym. 

Thanks to social media, videos of ripped people pulling off moves like the muscle-up, human flag, front lever, and back lever have made calisthenics more popular than ever. Understandably, people may be a little timid about giving it a go. After all, who in their right mind thinks they can levitate their body sideways on a pole with only their arms for support? 

calisthenics

But these incredible calisthenics athletes had to start somewhere. At one point, they were as trained (or untrained) as you are at this very moment. 

Want to know where to get started with calisthenics? Follow along as I, Pat Chadwick, head calisthenics instructor at Gymless.org, go over all the basic elements of calisthenics, including how to set up your very first calisthenics training regime.

What is Calisthenics?

When you imagine “calisthenics”, your mind might instantly drift to the more intense side of the spectrum, to extraordinary feats like the front lever and the human flag. But, at its elementary level, calisthenics refers to bodyweight exercises where you utilize gravity as resistance. This includes much less intimidating exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, and squats.

The word “calisthenics” is derived from ancient Greek words “kallos”, meaning beauty, and “stenos”, which stands for strength. It is a combination of aesthetic performances from the human body that is displayed through strength and determination. 

Calisthenics is also a method of honing one’s health and fitness by using one’s body weight as resistance. Another quirky name for this is “street workout” because you can practice this in outdoor parks and public facilities.

The 5 Benefits of Calisthenics Workouts

  1. Convenient And Easy To Get Started

Most calisthenics exercises do not require any fancy equipment or a gym membership. These exercises can be done either at home or at the park nearby your home, which makes this one of the most cost-effective ways to get fit. The most basic equipment you’d need for calisthenics is a pull-up bar, which is inexpensive compared to a gym setup. 

On top of this point, you can do bodyweight exercises anywhere. This will remove any kind of excuses not to work out because you don’t need anything elaborate in your surroundings. You can use tables and chairs in your workouts and get the job done. For instance, incorporate decline push-ups and bench dips as a part of your chest and tricep routine. 

  1. Improve Functional Strength

There is nothing more athletic than a good old bodyweight workout because most of the exercises are compound movements. They allow us to move multiple joints at once and coordinate that movement together and let us transfer that power throughout the kinetic chain. Which will lead us to burn more fat and build lean muscle simultaneously. However, this can only be supported with a proper calisthenics diet.

Calisthenics will activate different muscle groups and mimic real-world movement patterns 

Think about when you’re walking, running, skipping, or swimming; these movements involve many muscles working together in unison. Compound exercises will increase our functional strength, which would allow us to move more athletically in space.

  1. Burn More Calories and Increase Fat Loss

Calisthenics is great for conditioning and fat loss because of the flexibility in the way that you can program your training and the compound movements that are derived from it. For instance, you could do HIIT or circuit-style training with your body weight, which could produce better results than a fixed, plain single-joint exercise such as bicep curls.

Compound movements will enable you to burn more calories in a shorter period of time. Think about it; pull-ups or bicep curls, which one requires more energy to perform? As you would expect, pull-ups burn more calories because it targets your back, arms, shoulders, and core. While bicep curls only isolate your biceps.

A 2015 research paper has found that calisthenics leads to greater total energy expenditure and heart rate response compared to standing or walking, which in the long run may help with weight control.

  1. Build Impressive Strength

Think about the cool things you can do with calisthenics; muscle-ups, handstands, handstand push-ups, front levers, back levers, human flag, and planche. The supreme control you’d receive over your body would be impressive, and the reaction you give when you see these feats is what you would get from onlookers if you practice calisthenics.

  1. Improve Self Image and Confidence

The byproduct of bodyweight training is lower body fat, higher muscle definition, and a chiseled lean body that looks visibly toned. According to a 2016 study, exercise has a positive impact on self-esteem, and this is an important factor for a successful and satisfying life both physically and physiologically. 

Calisthenics will make you feel better about your physical self, your ability, and your physique. In the long-term, you’d get a sense of accomplishment that would boost your confidence.

Calisthenics vs Weight Lifting

Let’s start defining both types of training. As mentioned earlier, calisthenics is a form of training to use your body weight as resistance. Whereas weight training uses external force for resistance, it uses equipment such as weights, barbells, kettlebells, and so forth. Both can be your partner in crime to grow strong, and they’re also great compliments for each other. 

Calisthenics focuses more on body control and body engagement. This will improve your relative strength; how strong you are relative to your body weight. Weight lifting focuses more on muscle isolation, specifically your maximum strength; how much force you can exert on external resistance. 

The Major Benefits of Calisthenics

  1. Convenient and affordable
  2. Compound workouts (improve functional strength)
  3. Burn more calories 
  4. Develop impressive skills
  5. Improve self-esteem

The Major Cons of Calisthenics

  1. Progress can be slow and difficult
  2. Leg exercises are limited compared to the upper body
  3. Knowledge is required for progress

The Major Benefits of Weight Lifting

  1. Easy to progress (simply increase weight load)
  2. Easier to isolate specific muscle groups
  3. Easier to build muscle
  4. Maximize muscular strength
  5. Improve self-esteem

The Major Cons of Weight Lifting

  1. Poor form increases the risks of injury
  2. Requires gym equipment or gym membership (more expensive)
  3. Not as functional as calisthenics 

Disclaimer

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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